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U.S.D.A. Proposes New Professional Standards for School Nutrition Workers

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture published a proposed rule Tuesday that would establish professional education standards and annual training requirements for district-level workers who manage and operate National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. The proposed rule would also set hiring standards for state school nutrition program directors.

The agency was instructed to create the rule under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which also mandated new nutrition standards for school meals. The new regulation would set the first blanket standards for training and hiring ini the student nutrition field. Currently, many districts don't provide ongoing professional development for food-service personnel, and many cafeteria workers come from other professional backgrounds or work their way up the line into director positions without first obtaining a nutrition-related degree.

The proposed rule would set education requirements for food-service directors that are more intensive for larger nutrition programs.

"This is in recognition of the fact that as [program] size increases, the level of responsibility and complexity of the food-service system also increases and necessitates a higher minimum educational level," the proposed rule says.

For example, a newly hired director at a food-service program that serves an enrollment of 25,000 or more students would be required to have at least a bachelor's degree in one of several food-related fields or a bachelor's degree in any area coupled with a state-recognized food-service certificate. At the same time, a newly hired director in a program that serves 2,499 or fewer students could have as little as a high school diploma or GED if that credential is accompanied by five years of relevant experience.

This might not be a big change for some districts. A 2011-2012 survey of food-service workers found that 34 percent of current directors in programs with 2,499 or fewer students have an associate degree or higher, the proposed rule says.

We hear a lot about ongoing education for teachers, but other school employees often get overlooked. Folks on the front lines of child obesity would likely benefit from some refresher courses, especially as they adjust to changes in what they serve and how they serve it.

The School Nutrition Association, which represents 55,000 student nutrition professionals around the country, said in a news release that it will assemble a group to review the proposal and offer comments.

"the School Nutrition Association supports the development of professional standards to further elevate the quality and efficacy of school meal programs and enhance the public's confidence in school nutrition professionals," President Leah Schmidt said in the release.

You can read all of the nitty gritty in the proposed rule, which will be out for public comment until April 7.

Programs of all sizes would be required to provide eight annual continuing education hours for staff in areas such as free- and reduced-lunch eligibility, safety standards, and nutrition.

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